• Eight of the top-ten apparel suppliers to the US recorded a year-on-year increase in January.
  • The volume of US apparel imports from all sources jumped 26% month-on-month.
  • China – the largest supplier of apparel to the US – saw shipments fall 6% year-on-year.
Cambodia’s shipments soared 20% year-on-year

Cambodia’s shipments soared 20% year-on-year

US apparel import volumes returned to month-on-month growth in January with eight of the top ten supplier countries recording double-digit gains – led by Cambodia and Nicaragua.

The latest figures from the Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show the volume of US apparel imports from all sources jumped 26% month-on-month in January to 2.42bn square metre equivalents (SME). The figures also show a 0.2% increase in volume against January last year, and 0.9% growth in value terms year-on-year to $7.05bn.

In terms of individual supplier countries, eight of the top-ten recorded a year-on-year increase in January, with Cambodia booking the largest growth.

China – the largest supplier of apparel to the US – saw shipments fall 6% year-on-year during the month to 1bn SME. Imports from the country, however, were up month-on-month from the 794m SME recorded in December. The second-largest supplier, Vietnam, booked year-on-year growth of 0.9% to 352m SME – an improvement on December's growth of 0.2%.

Bangladesh, ranked number three in the top-ten US apparel supplier league table, saw its exports increase 6.5% year-on-year in January to 189m SME, while Cambodia's shipments soared 20% year-on-year to 98m SME. Mexico's exports were up 2.9% to 63m SME.

Of the remaining top-ten supplier countries, Indonesia reported the second largest year-on-year decline of 5.7% to 113m SME. Nicaragua, meanwhile, recorded growth of 15.2% to 45m SME and Honduras an increase of 14% to 66m SME. India saw shipments grow 10% year-on-year to 104m SME, and El Salvador by 0.2% to 49m SME.

Textile and apparel imports, meanwhile, grew 2.6% year-on-year to 5.61bn SME, and in value terms by 4.2% to $9.29bn. Textiles alone, meanwhile, recorded growth of 4.5% to 3.19bn SME, and in value terms growth of 16.3% to $2.24bn.

Apparel volumes - 12-month overview

El Salvador49627657696372726064716449

Source: The Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA)

On graph: Click on countries to add or remove.

Eight-year overview

Taking a broader look at the data over an eight year period from 2010 to 2017, Vietnam is the only country in the top ten to have seen a steady increase in import volumes to the US, growing from 1.91bn SME in 2010 to 3.60bn SME in 2017 – growing its share of total imports from 7.72% to 13.28%.

China's imports have fluctuated over this period, from 10.4bn SME in 2010, falling to 9.74bn SME a year later, before reaching a peak of 11.38bn SME in 2015. Shipments dipped again in 2016 to 11.17bn SME, and last year grew to 11.36bn. The country has lost marginal US apparel market share, from 41.98% in 2010 to 41.91% in 2017.

Cambodia, Indonesia, Mexico, El Salvador and Pakistan are all exporting less to the US now than they were eight years ago. Cambodia fell from 947.1m SME to 931m SME in 2017, decreasing its share of the total from 3.83% in 2010 to 3.43% last year.

Apparel volumes - 8-year overview

El Salvador819.839782.192789.751796.812788.692813.004825780

Source: The Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA)

On graph: Click on countries to add or remove.

Facts behind the figures

While there continues to be concerns that increasing wages are undermining the competitiveness of China's garment production on the world stage, the latest figures continue to confirm its appeal to apparel buyers, particularly in the US. The latest data shows the average unit price of China's apparel exports into the States has dropped steadily over the last seven years – with a decline of 4.8% in the last year alone.

The fall in prices comes despite claims US buyers are seeking alternative sources for clothing amid concerns China is losing its competitiveness. Indeed, China's share of US apparel import volumes currently stands at 41.9%, little changed from the 41.53% it held in 2016, and marginally lower than the share of 41.98% it held in 2010.

No other country can match China in terms of the size of its supply base, its range of skills, its quality levels, its product variety and the completeness of its supply chain. The country also continues to lead the way when it comes to efficiency and infrastructure.

Work has been underway by China's government to crack down on pollution, with tens of thousands of factories, including garment and textile facilities, shut down already. The national effort follows several months of investigations by the country's Environment Bureau to determine which factories are not following environmental laws. An estimated 40% of all China's factories have been closed in order to lower air pollution levels.

Factories may also feel further pressure to conform following the recent launch of an online supply chain map of China linking fashion brands and retailers to their suppliers' environmental performance. The database and map provide real-time data and historical trends on air pollution emissions and wastewater discharge for nearly 15,000 major industrial facilities in China, as well as access to environmental supervision records for over half a million more.

Last month an initiative was agreed to boost responsible business conduct and due diligence in the country's textile and apparel supply chains.

China drives decline in US apparel import prices in 2017

Green supply chain map links China factories to brands

China bid for market economy status rejected by US

Meanwhile, Cambodia's apparel industry is the country's largest manufacturing sector, despite being blighted by strikes, wage disputes, and factory faintings. Garment manufacturers have called for a focus on productivity to offset rising wages, and are also urging buyers to increase their prices for Cambodian goods. A new monthly minimum wage of $170 took effect in January – an increase of 11% on last year.

Cambodia's garment exports are growing in markets with beneficial access, like Canada, Japan and the EU, while shipments to the US have fallen over the past eight years. 

However, in December the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for the temporary suspension of Cambodia's preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) duty-free trade access over claims the country is violating its obligations under the agreement. Earlier in the month, a ruling by the country's top court to dissolve Cambodia's main opposition party had prompted garment makers to call for continued support from international buyers.

Thanks to the EBA duty-free access, the European Union (EU) is the most important market for Cambodia's garment exports, accounting for around 45% of the total – which grew 5.4% year-on-year to US$3.3bn in the first six months of 2017. As a whole, Cambodia's garment and footwear sector is worth US$6.8bn and accounts for 80% of its total exports.

Cambodia garment sector faces ongoing challenges

European Parliament mulls Cambodia trade sanctions

Cambodian garment makers urge buyers for support